"If I ask an organic chemist to make me a random new molecule, they can't do it," says Lee Cronin, a professor of chemistry at the University of Glasgow. "It's not because they are stupid. They will ask me what type of molecule and what specification. It could take them one week or ten years. Cronin realised that even though that's a difficult ask for a human being, it probably wasn't such a difficult project for a machine learning robot to undertake.
Scientists can only do so much to discover new chemical reactions on their own. Short of happy accidents, it can take years to find new drugs that might save lives. They might have a better way at the University of Glasgow, though: let robots do the hard work. A research team at the school has developed a "robot chemist" (below) that uses machine learning to accelerate discoveries of chemical reactions and molecules. The bot uses machine learning to predict the outcomes of chemical reactions based on what it gleans from direct experience with just a fraction of those interactions.
How can matter transition from the nonliving to the living state? The answer is essential for understanding the origin of life on Earth and for identifying promising targets in the search for life on other planets. Most studies have focused on the likely chemistry of RNA (1), protein (2), lipid, or metabolic "worlds" (3) and autocatalytic sets (4), including attempts to make life in the lab. But these efforts may be too narrowly focused on the biochemistry of life as we know it today. A radical rethink is necessary, one that explores not just plausible chemical scenarios but also new physical processes and driving forces.
Chemists have tied the tightest knot yet, a nano-sized structure with eight crossings and just 192 atoms. The advance could help researchers learn how to manipulate materials at the atom level to develop stronger, more flexible, and lighter-weight cloth or construction materials. The knot, described in today's issue of the journal Science, measures 20 nanometers in length, about 100,000 times smaller than the head of a pin. Why make a knot that's so small? I'll give you a two-part answer.